Impact of seawater acidification on pH at the tissue–skeleton interface and calcification in reef corals

Insight into the response of reef corals and other major marine calcifiers to ocean acidification is limited by a lack of knowledge about how seawater pH and carbonate chemistry impact the physiological processes that drive biomineralization. Ocean acidification is proposed to reduce calcification rates in corals by causing declines in internal pH at the calcifying tissue–skeleton interface where biomineralization takes place. Here, we performed an in vivo study on how partial-pressure CO2-driven seawater acidification impacts intracellular pH in coral calcifying cells and extracellular pH in the fluid at the tissue–skeleton interface [subcalicoblastic medium (SCM)] in the coral Stylophora pistillata. We also measured calcification in corals grown under the same conditions of seawater acidification by measuring lateral growth of colonies and growth of aragonite crystals under the calcifying tissue. Our findings confirm that seawater acidification decreases pH of the SCM, but this decrease is gradual relative to the surrounding seawater, leading to an increasing pH gradient between the SCM and seawater. Reductions in calcification rate, both at the level of crystals and whole colonies, were only observed in our lowest pH treatment when pH was significantly depressed in the calcifying cells in addition to the SCM. Overall, our findings suggest that reef corals may mitigate the effects of seawater acidification by regulating pH in the SCM, but they also highlight the role of calcifying cell pH homeostasis in determining the response of reef corals to changes in external seawater pH and carbonate chemistry.

Venn A. A., Tambutté E., Holcomb M., Laurent J., Allemand D. & Tambutté S., in press. Impact of seawater acidification on pH at the tissue–skeleton interface and calcification in reef corals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. Article (subscription required).

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